By Kara Van Pelt
CHARLESTON, W. Va. (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hear testimony from coal miners, lobbyists, environmentalists and others on Tuesday at a public meeting in West Virginia on the EPA's proposal to dismantle an Obama-era plan to slash carbon emissions from power plants.
The two-day hearing in Charleston on the proposal to axe the Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of former President Barack Obama's strategy on climate change, is the only one scheduled so far on the rules, which President Donald Trump has said would be devastating for the coal industry.
"The EPA is headed to the heart of coal country to hear from those most impacted by the CPP and get their comments on the proposed Repeal Rule," EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said this month in announcing the hearings.
Comments will also be heard on the EPA's October declaration to propose a new rule on carbon emissions in the "near future," which would likely go easier on coal-fired plants than Obama's CPP would have.
In 2015, the EPA finalized the CPP, which sought to reduce emissions from power plants to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, but the plan never took effect. The Supreme Court stalled it after energy-producing states sued the EPA, saying it had exceeded its legal reach.
Environmentalists and health workers in favor of the CPP will emphasize how the plan would lead to billions of dollars in savings on hospital bills because it also would slash emissions from coal plants.
Coal interests will argue that the plan would boost costs to utilities, which would likely result in cuts in mining jobs. Scott Segal, the head of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, will argue the CPP is expensive and illegal because it requires some utilities to reduce emissions "beyond the fence line" or far away from the power plants themselves.
Former Obama EPA staffers complained that the agency has scheduled only one hearing on the plan to ditch the CPP.
Liz Purchia Gannon, a former spokeswoman, said Pruitt is "just checking a box ... and making it more difficult for Americans across the country to weigh in."
Under Obama, the EPA held 11 public listening sessions before it proposed the CPP and four hearings during its public comment period.
The EPA has criticized the Obama administration for never holding a hearing in West Virginia, denying coal workers a chance to comment in person. It is encouraging stakeholders to submit online comments about the proposal and any requests for additional public meetings.
The agency will receive written comments on the CPP until Jan. 16, and a spokesman added: "As this is a vital issue that affects people across the country, we will do our best to respond to requests for additional meetings.”
(Reporting by Kara Van Pelt and Timothy Gardner, writing by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Dan Grebler)